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Dr Peter Oakley specialises in research on materials, making and manufacturing.

Peter is Reader in Material Culture and Co-Lead of the Material Engagements Research Cluster (MERC) in the School of Arts and Humanities at the Royal College of Art. He specialises in ethnographic, experiential and object-based research, focusing on materials, making and manufacturing. His past research projects have explored the allure of prestige materials, the creation of specialist handcrafted products, the luxury goods sector, and the materiality of artworks.

Peter has worked in academia for nearly thirty years. During the 1990s, he taught on the ceramic courses at Camberwell College of Arts, De Montfort University, and the University of the Creative Arts. Subsequently, he became the Course Leader for the BA Applied Arts at Plymouth College of Art and Design (now Arts University Plymouth). In 2006 he joined the Southwest Lifelong Learning Network project as their Heritage and Cultural Tourism Specialist. Winning an AHRC Scholarship in 2008 enabled him to read for a PhD at UCL.

Peter joined the Royal College of Art in 2012, initially as Research Leader for the School of Material. He transferred to the School of Arts & Humanities when it was created in 2017 and was awarded a Readership by the RCA in 2018.

Peter has been Principal Investigator (PI) for two AHRC-funded projects and the Co-Investigator in three further AHRC awards, the UK Project Lead for an EACEA Creative Europe project, and the UK Participant Contact (Pa-Co) for a Horizon2020 project, as well as leading nine smaller funded projects.

Research projects

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Peter was awarded a PhD in anthropology from University College London in 2013. His doctoral thesis, supported by ethnographic research, explored the creation and destruction of gold jewellery as an aspect of material culture. He has since researched and published on further aspects of the fine jewellery and luxury watch industries and gold supply chains. Topics covered include the history and changing role of precious metal assaying and hallmarking, the social identity of gold jewellery, the changing identity of the wristwatch (from technical instrument to luxury product), and the impact of gold certification programmes created to support small-scale gold mining (ASGM) communities.

Peter also has a long-term interest in the renovation, management and presentation of industrial heritage, stemming from his engagement with the Cornish Mining WHS during the period when he worked for the Southwest Lifelong Learning Network. He has since undertaken field research on gold mining heritage sites across Alaska, California, Sweden, and Wales, the Jewellery Quarters in London and Birmingham, and the repurposing of industrial buildings as cultural venues in Shanghai and Jingdezhen. He has recently been engaged in related research on the history and heritage of gold, silver, copper, and tin mining, due to the insights this offers on contemporary issues such as environmental pollution and unsustainable resource exploitation.

Building on his own previous experience as a studio maker, Peter has periodically undertaken research on traditional craft skills and their contemporary deployment, covering either studio-based applied arts or the production of contemporary luxury goods. This research includes projects focusing on the UK’s jewellery quarters, native American jewellers in the American southwest, and ceramics companies operating in the UK or China. In the 2010s he convened a sequence of workshops examining interactions between digital technologies, industry, and craft practice as part of the Making Futures conference series. His understanding of the issues faced by contemporary crafts professionals has informed his contributions to international knowledge exchange and development projects focusing on crafts in Kazakhstan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

As well as informing his ethnographic research, Peter's extensive experience of manual making skills and chemical laboratory practice underpins an ongoing research interest in Early Modern alchemical and artisanal praxis. This includes applying experiential and object-centred approaches to explore of the role of embodiment in the practices of precious metal refining and assaying, bench chemistry, and studio craft.

Over the past five years, Peter has become increasingly involved with identifying, supporting, and promoting more sustainable practices across the creative industries, initiating projects as the Principal Investigator of grant funded consortia. These projects include Thai Textiles (2019-2022), Sustainable Materials in the Creative Industries (2020-2021), Carbon Measurement Tools in the Creative Industries (2022-2023), and Embedding Carbon Literacy in the Applied Arts (2023-2024). This research informs his teaching on the RCA’s Jewellery and Metals and Ceramics and Glass MA programmes, as well contributing to the content of Sustainable and Responsible Sourcing, the new MFA Elective Peter is leading.

Peter specialises in supervising PhD projects that focus on a creative industry, creative practice or traditional manual skill from a material culture perspective. His PhD candidates are taught to employ ethnographic, autoethnographic, experiential, or object-based research methodologies.

Alchemy meets Jewellery (2023)

Fund: RCA Symposium Fund

A symposium for historians, museologists, and practicing jewellers with research interests relating to intersections between alchemy and jewellery.

Carbon Measurement Tools in the Creative Industries (2022–23)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: AHRC Large Grants

A rapid evidence assessment of the creative industry's use of carbon footprint calculation tools (CFCTs) to inform a report for the DCMS.

Linking Landscapes to Cultural Creative Sustainability (2022)

Role: UK Partner

Call: British Council Woven Networks Scoping Grants.

The project scoped the practices and needs of Filipino craft weavers using non-wood forest materials to support more sustainable forest management practices

Ethical Gold & Government Policy (2021–22)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund

An investigation into how ethical gold certification schemes and jewellery and watch industry initiatives interact with regional, national, and supranational government policies.

Thai Textiles (2019–22)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: RCA GCRF Development Scheme

A partnership with Thai academics, identifying locally sourced sustainable raw materials suitable for craft weaving and creating and digitising a collection of woven samples using these materials.

Sustainable Materials in the Creative Industries (2020–21)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: AHRC Where Next? Scoping Future Arts and Humanities Led Research

The project team scoped current and immanent sustainable practice around the sourcing, use, disposal, recycling, and reuse of materials across the creative industries.

Crafting Futures – Wider Europe (Central Asia) (2019–21)

Role: Field Researcher (Kazakhstan)

Call: British Council Crafting Futures Programme

A team of RCA and Leicester University researchers undertook fieldwork in Central Asia to identify local contexts for craft and the issues faced by Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek craftworkers.

4Cs: From Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture (2017–21)

Role: RCA Lead and Project Manager

Call: EACEA Creative Europe EU Large Cooperation Projects.

A transnational project that explored how training and education in art and culture can reflect on, and respond to, conflict through audience participation and co-production.

Industrial Heritage in Shanghai and Jingdezhen (2019)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: RCA GCRF Development Scheme

Fieldwork in Shanghai and Jingdezhen to examine the re-purposing of disused industrial buildings to house cultural institutions and how the practice related to local political contexts.

Art Fair Innovations (2019)

Role: Co-Investigator

Call: AHRC UK-China Creative Industries Partnership Development.

The AFI research team from the RCA and Shanghai University examined the context, management and delivery of Shanghai’s West Bund Art and Design Fair.

Ethical Gold in Scotland (2018–19)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: RCA RKE Development Fund

An exploration of the impact of ethical gold campaigns & certification initiatives in Scotland through fieldwork amongst practitioners, lecturers and professional bodies.

Fair Luxury at the RCA (2018)

Role: Event Convener and RCA Project Manager

Call: RCA GCRF Development Scheme

This industry-facing conference, run in partnership with Fair Luxury, focused on ethical sourcing in the jewellery industry.

Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics (2017-18)

Role: Co-Investigator

Call: AHRC Follow-on Funding Creative Economy Highlight.

Prototyping design improvements for current ceramic laser printing machines and identifying technical specifications for the next generation of printing equipment.

ArcInTex European Training Network (2014-18)

Role: RCA Participant Contact

Funder: H2020-MSCA-ITN

The international ArcInTex ETN consortium funded and hosted 15 PhDs researching intersections between architecture, interactive design, and textiles.

Erasmus+ Staff Placement (2017)

Role: Placement Sponsor & Host

Call: EACEA Erasmus+ (staff or teaching mobility).

Dr Antonella Camarda, lecturer at the University of Sassari & Director of the Nivola Museum, undertook a two-week placement as a tutor at the RCA.

Extending the Potential of the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface (2015-2017)

Role: Co-Investigator

Call: AHRC Standard Grant.

An exploration of the commercial potential of digital printing for decorating high-value ceramics, including identifying social & technical barriers to adoption.

Materializing Time (2014)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: RCA Research & Knowledge Exchange Costs

Fieldtrip to Geneva to research the development of the wristwatch as a luxury good.

Contrived Dereliction (2013)

Role: Principal Investigator

Call: RCA Research and Knowledge Exchange Costs

Drawing on fieldwork at mining heritage sites in North America & Europe, this project developed the concept of ‘contrived dereliction’ as a presentation strategy.

AHRC Doctoral Scholarship (2008–12)

Role: PhD Candidate

Funding Call: AHRC Doctoral Awards

Three years fee payments & living allowance to undertake a doctoral project at UCL.

SouthWest Lifelong Learning Network (SWLLN) (2006–08)

Role: Heritage and Cultural Tourism Representative

Call HEFCE/LSC/DfES Lifelong Learning Networks

A consortium development project focused on enhancing vocational education options in public services, cultural services, heritage & tourism across Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, & south Wiltshire.

Academic Journal Articles

Oakley, P. (2023); ‘Making Mercury's Histories: representations of mercury in gold

mining's past and present.' Ambix 70 (1).

Oakley, P. (2022) ‘Searching for Pure Gold: the rise and impact of ethical gold certification programmes in the UK and Switzerland 2011-2021', Environmental Science and Policy 132.

Oakley, P. (2021) 'Wuthigrai Siriphon: Highlighting Tradition', Craft Research, 12 (2).

Oakley, P. (2018) ‘After Mining: contrived dereliction, dualistic time and the moment of rupture in the presentation of mining heritage’, Extractive Industries and Society 5 (2).

Oakley, P. (2017) ‘Is Gold Jewelry Money?’ Social Analysis 61 (4).

Oakley, P. (2015) ‘Ticking Boxes: (re)constructing the wristwatch as a luxury object’, Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption, 1 (2).

Books

Crimmin, M. & Oakley, P. (2020) This Is No Longer That Place: a handbook on the events. London: Royal College of Art.

Book Chapters

Oakley, P. (2020) ‘Is Gold Jewelry Money?’ in: Sandy Ross and Mario Scmidt (eds), Money Counts: Revisiting Economic Calculation: New York & Oxford: Berghahn.

Oakley, P. (2015) ‘Introducing Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold: An attempt to reconfigure the social identity of a substance’, in: Adam Drazin and Susanne Kuechler (eds), The Social Life of Materials, London: Bloomsbury.

Oakley, P. (2015) ‘A Permanent State of Decay: Contrived dereliction at heritage mining sites’, in: Hilary Orange (ed.), Reanimating Industrial Spaces. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Oakley, P. (2014) 'Contrived Dereliction: Employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites', in: Mike Robinson et al (eds.) Cultural Heritage and Tourism Vol.2: Engagement and Experience. Taipei: Farterng Culture CO.

Oakley, P. & Küchler,S. (2013) ‘New Materials and their Impact on the Material World’, in: Penny Harvey, Eleanor Casella, Gillian Evans, Hannah Knox, Christine McLean, Elizabeth B. Silva, Nicholas Thoburn, Kath Woodward (eds), Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion, London: Routledge.

Oakley, P. (2013) ‘Containing Precious Metals: the material consequences of hallmarking in modern and medieval England’, in: Hans Peter Hahn and Hadas Weis (eds), Mobility, Meaning and Transformations of Things: Shifting contexts of material culture through time and space, Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Oakley, P. (2008) ‘Praxeological Subjectification: the hidden power of practical activities’, in: Kate Hatton (ed.), Design Pedagogy Research, Huddersfield: Jeremy Mills.

Published Conference Papers

Oakley, P. (2023) ‘Materials Sustainability across the Crafts and Applied Arts: a review and reflections’. Sustainable Innovation 2023. Epsom, Surrey: University of the Creative Arts.

Oakley, P. (2019) ‘Ethical Gold: Why Manufacturing Methods Matter’. The Goldsmiths’ Company Jewellery Materials Congress. London: The Goldsmiths’ Company.

Oakley, P. (2018) ‘Creating a Brighter Future? Responses to the commercialisation of a new ceramic print technology’. Making Futures 5. Plymouth College of Art.

Oakley, P. (2016) ‘Digital Crafting: Defining the Field in 2015’, Making Futures 4. Plymouth College of Art.

Oakley, P. (2015) 'Digital Crafting: Re-evaluating Promises and Pitfalls'. In: Making Futures Korea: Craft, meeting the new through changes in perception. Cheongju: Cheongju International Craft Biennale Committee.

Oakley, P. (2014) ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies: issues in practice’, Making Futures 3, Plymouth College of Art.

Oakley, P. (2010) ‘Does Contemporary Craft Carry a Social Deficit? An analysis through comparison with related creative practises’, Making Futures 1. Plymouth College of Art.

Industry Journal Publications

Oakley, P. (2012) ‘Reflections on Ethical Gold’, in: The Goldsmiths’ Company Technical Journal 2012.

Oakley, P. (2010) ‘The Ethical Gold Series’ for Benchpeg.

  1. ‘Introducing Ethical Gold’, in: Benchpeg 162
  2. ‘So What’s Wrong with Gold Mining Anyway?’ in: Benchpeg 167
  3. ‘Industrial Mining and Anti-Mining Campaigns’, in Benchpeg 173
  4. ‘Why is ASM Different?’, in: Benchpeg 178
  5. ‘Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold', in: Benchpeg 187

Working Reports

Oakley, P., Mock, R., Findley, J., Jansen, I., Bauer, S., Lardeur, R., Macdonald, E. (2021) Sustainable Materials in the Creative Industries: A scoping report for the AHRC. Redacted version available at: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/5212/

Dare, E., Simmons, T., Ramanathan, R. and Oakley, P. (2019) Crafting Futures: Scoping visit reports and proposals for pilot projects in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/4337/

Oakley, P. (2019) Material Disciplines in the Shanghai Art World. AFI Report No.2. http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4007

Published Book Reviews

Oakley, P. (2018) Reviewed work: ‘L’Invention du Luxe: histoire de l’industrie horlogère à Genève de 1815 à nos jours’ [by Pierre-Yves Donzé, 2017]. Review published in Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption, vol.5, no.1.

Advisory Roles

Member of the Scottish Goldsmith Trust's Ethical Making Committee, 2022-ongoing.

Project Advisor for Survey and analysis of local artisans in Uthai Thani and Chai Nat Province: the ethnic Lao Khrang-based weaving curriculum development, 2021-2022.

Advisor for Wooden Reed Making of the ethnic Lao Khrang in Thailand, 2019-2021.

Advisor for the Scottish Goldsmith Trust's Ethical Making Resource, 2017-2021.

Advisor for the British Council report: Empowerment of Women and Girls through Craft, Digital Technology and Entrepreneurship in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, 2016-2017.

Advisory Board member for the Geneva-based Sustainable Luxury Forum, 2013-2015.

Specialist Panel member for the FLO Fairtrade Gold certification standard review, 2012.

Journal Editorial Board Memberships

Editorial Advisory Board member for In Pursuit of Luxury (2021-ongoing)

Editorial Advisory Board member for Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption (2014-ongoing)

UKRI Support Activities

Member of the Interfolio Strategic Committee for Researchfish. 2021-ongoing.

Member of the AHRC Peer Review College. 2017-ongoing.

Member of the ResearchFish Steering Board. 2017-2021

Professional Association Memberships

Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institution (RAI)

Member of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)

Member of the Society for the History of Alchemy & Chemistry (SHAC)

Member of the Society of Jewellery Historians (SJH)

Member of the Association of Research Managers & Assistants (ARMA)

Research Group Memberships

Material Engagements Research Cluster (RCA School of Arts and Humanities)

Anthropology of Mining Network (European Association of Social Anthropologists)

Association for the Discussion of History of Chemistry (University of Cambridge)

Winchester Luxury Research Group (University of Southampton)

Adjudicating

Member of the judging panel for the Royal Academy of Arts' 2015 Ceramic Architectural Installation competition.